20 novembre 2010

The history | Blogging 101 | Geoff Manaugh

Over the course of the next five issues of Abitare, this series of short articles will look at the practice of blogging in the world of architecture and design. The overall perspective will be less critical, however, than practical – a kind of hands-on guide to the world of architecture blogs. Amongst the many questions this series will ask will be: What is a blog, how can you start one, why would you want to do so – and what exactly would you be getting yourself into?
I should be clear right from the beginning, though: As someone who has founded his entire present career through blogging, it should not be surprising that most of my answers to these questions will be very positive, about both the effects and the future possibilities of blogging.
Over the past few years, there have been a number of rather outlandish claims made on behalf of blogging. Blogging is the future of design criticism, some say, or blogging will even invalidate the entire university structure. “This will kill that,” as Victor Hugo once wrote. After all, why go to school when you can simply read an ever-changing handful of architecture blogs? Blogs are the new university, a mobile academy of temporary authors and ad hoc expertise.

These are undeniably exciting propositions, of course, but they also assume that blogging is somehow different from all other forms of writing and publication that have come before. However, blogs in and of themselves will not save design writing, and blogs are by no means the guaranteed future of architectural criticism.Nor, of course, will blogging bring about those genres’ premature demise. Indeed, any blog is only as good as the person who writes it. If the authors of bad design articles for print publications simply move, en masse, into the world of blogging, then blogging will repeat the same references, assumptions, tone, readership, and more that 
print-based design writing demonstrates.

Blogging is only promising insofar as it brings new authors, new voices, and entirely unexpected new perspectives into play. Without that, very little will have changed in the world of architecture and design writing. What, then, is a blog? At its most basic, blogging means putting words and/or images online, on a regular basis, using a website dedicated to their publication. What those words and images might be – and who will someday read them – is another thing entirely (and we will discuss that later in this series). But what to write, and who will read it, has always been the dilemma faced by writers, throughout history; blogging does not change that.

I thus want to emphasize, from the very beginning, an unlikely topic: history. There is a common misconception that blogging is fundamentally new in terms of literate self-expression; until now, the assumption goes, people have never had an opportunity to express themselves in public using the written word. Blogging is thus often portrayed as a radical break with discursive traditions of the past – at once revolutionary and messianic. But blogging is part of a very long history of self-publishing – indeed, it is part of a very long history of writing and inscription, as such. From heretical manuscripts reproduced by hand and distributed via underground channels in the Middle Ages to samizdatnot limited only to the digital context of Internet 2.0, web entrepreneurialism; that blogging actually belongs in a much larger and more ambitious historical context, alongside everything from religious prophecy – St. John hallucinating Armageddon and the end of the world on the Greek island of Patmos before writing his Book of Revelation – to political insurrection on the streets and sidewalks of early modern Europe, captured in pocket-sized copies of politically subversive short fiction in Soviet Russia; from mimeographed pamphlets of poetry passed hand to hand in places like 1960s New York and San Francisco to photocopied newsletters edited and produced by trade groups and secret societies, there have long been social networks distributing their own unofficial papers and other minor acts of the written word. I would argue, in fact, that blogging becomes all the more powerful a medium when 
pamphlets and books.

Blogging needn’t be limited in any way to the academic expectations of a well-crafted critical essay – its footnotes verified, its references to Walter Benjamin duly noted and approved – but it also needn’t be held captive by 21st-century snark and links-of-the-day.
Blogging has every possible genre available to it, and it always will, including thousands that have not yet been invented. Blogging can be architectural science fiction or it can be a new constitutional declaration of the rights of man; it can be quotidian lists of personal preferences or absurd anti-mythologies of a social cult to come. To assume that design blogs exist simply to confirm the methodologies and assumptions of architecture critics from the 1960s and 70s is both boring and profoundly wrong.

Blogging, with its self-publication and unsupervised editorial structure, allows for previously unused reference points to enter the design conversation, for critics and practitioners alike to escape the narrow spectrum of texts and buildings that were once seen as indispensable to an architectural review. The lack of editorial constraints of blogging – allowing you to sidestep the canon completely – also opens a profound new freedom in both reference and subject matter.
If architecture and design blogging is simply the latest iteration of the “Clip/Stamp/Fold” mentality already identifie by Beatriz Colomina and her students at Princeton University, then we would do well to look much further back, beyond Archigram and the Futurist Manifesto, to people like William Blake and – why not – Martin Luther.

Blogging has a much deeper history than even the most comprehensive blogroll might indicate. Its references should be equally exciting, and equally broad.


* Publication authorized by Abitare 
Geoff Manaugh, Blogging 101 - The history, Abitare n. 506, october 2010, pp. 40-43